If you hate confrontation, you are probably really good at avoiding conflict. While that might be a temporary solution it is not the healthiest and most constructive way of dealing with your emotions. Here is how to face conflict.

non-confrontational for dear life

I consider myself non-confrontational. Not in all areas of my life, but certainly in enough areas for it to have impacted my life. And not necessarily in a constructive way, as it turns out. 

My non-confrontational manner became most apparent in my daily life as a flatmate. I avoided arguments like the plague. Instead of being outspoken and unafraid of rubbing heads, I chose to stay diplomatic and keep the peace – on a surface level.

My emotional state, however, could not be described as peaceful. I was constantly eating up negative feelings towards a situation or the behaviour of my flatmate. Instead of openly discussing what bothered me and looking for a dialogue I was growing resentful. 

I avoided uncomfortable situations such as a (temporary) confrontation at all costs. Rather, I would sit in a lingering feeling of passive aggressiveness and dissatisfaction instead of being open and honest. It felt impossible for me to speak up and deal with the possibility that someone might disagree with me over a certain topic. 

non-confrontational behaviour can get toxic fast

I feared a toxic vibe in the flat so much, that I avoided confrontation at all costs. Without even realising I was creating and supporting an uncomfortable atmosphere.

Even the possibility of small confrontations gave me anxiety. For me, confrontation and open disagreement equalled being judged negatively by others and being disliked. I didn’t want to be seen as a complainer and as difficult.

And while there’s nothing wrong with being a diplomatic, harmony loving person on this earth, being too non-confrontational can actually hold you back in life.

In Andrew Schab’s article on passive aggressiveness he explains that “”avoiding conflict never extinguishes conflict. It only delays it. And in being avoidant you actually inflame the issue at hand, so that when it comes to the surface, the situation becomes more dramatic than it needs to be.

Pleasing always breeds resentment. The yes-man always feels ripped off because his true feelings are never heard. And the people being manipulated always feel cheated because they feel like they never have a choice in the matter at hand.”

It is obvious. Avoiding confrontation can actually make it worse. 

And being passive aggressive is a bad trait, that other people have to suffer from. Passive aggressiveness usually stems from the fear of being open and honest and believing that we don’t deserve to be heard.

And remember: five minutes of an awkward conversation is better than months of resentment or a ruined relationship. 

Facing the fear of conflict

Overcoming non-confrontational tendencies is, just like anything else we want to change about ourselves, hard work and requires us to be honest with ourselves. 

Why are we so scared of conflict? where is the root of that trait? 

Personally, I have a fear of being judged and disliked. I would rather dislike someone than being disliked by them. Yes, it is absurd! Additionally, I associate conflict with changing someone’s opinion of myself for the worse. This is especially applicable in my work-life and with my flatmates. In my universe, the possibility that people see conflict as healthy, normal and even necessary, does not exist. To me, conflict is always ‘bad’. And therefore, I avoid it. 

How to overcome the fear of confrontation

Here are some strategies (that have helped me) on how to overcome conflict-phobia: 

  • Try to deal with conflicts as soon as possible, when they are still small.

Talking openly and being assertive is difficult. But it is a learnable skill. So, practice makes perfect. Start addressing small things, it does not have to be a big deal, and realise, nothing catastrophic happens. the world still spins. the sun still sets. Your relationships are still good (maybe even better).

  • Rewire your mind: conflict isn’t always bad

Confrontation does not mean: bad, detrimental, horrible, awkward, aggressive, destroying etc. (I could come up with many more words I used to associate with conflict). Actually, sometimes conflict is necessary, it is healthy, it introduces much-needed change and it helps us grow. I am not saying to start screaming at anyone you meet who does something that annoys you. But, conflict can be important and so good! Embrace the idea of healthy conflict.

  • Advise yourself as if you were your friend

Often, we give great advice and support to our friends but fail in taking our own advice. It is just much harder to practice what we preach. In a situation of approaching conflict, imagine that you are advising one of your best friends. It will help you to feel more assertive and brave.

  • If you have to avoid confrontation, work on changing your perspective

Of course, there are situations, where you just don’t want to enter into a conflict. And that is ok. In that case, make the conscious decisions to avoid confrontation but instead of building up resentment, try to change your perspective. It was your decision to avoid confrontation, therefore you didn’t give anyone the chance to change their behaviour or respond. In that case, try to develop an understanding for the people and/or the situation that bothers you and act from a place of kindness and compassion.

There’s nothing wrong with not jumping into every possible conflict and appreciating harmony. But learning to be more direct and participating in healthy and honest confrontation contributes to a long-term peace of mind.